Pro bono work by private law firms is essential for closing the justice gap and guaranteeing access to legal services. Make pro bono a part of your professional life by choosing a firm that has a strong and vibrant pro bono culture. Let potential employers know the importance you place on pro bono service when deciding where to begin your legal career. Private firms want to recruit the best legal talent and will develop robust pro bono programs in response to law student demand. Asking questions about pro bono and the type of work the firm has been involved with signals that pro bono is important to prospective associates.
Consider some of these factors as you assess the strength of a law firm’s commitment to pro bono.
1. How is the firm's pro bono program structured?
- Is there a full-time attorney pro bono coordinator?
- Is the pro bono coordinator a partner and/or are partners involved in the supervision of pro bono cases?
- How are pro bono cases brought into the firm?
- Who screens/assigns pro bono matters?
- What types of pro bono cases does the firm accept? (impact, class actions or individual representations?)
- Do all of the firm’s offices actively participate in the pro bono program?
- Does the firm provide ongoing training and supervision for pro bono matters?
- Does the firm provide administrative and clerical support for pro bono cases?
2. How does the firm encourage pro bono work?
- Are attorneys required or encouraged to perform a minimum number of pro bono hours annually?
- Do pro bono hours count toward the firm’s billable hour requirement?
- Is there a cap on the number of pro bono hours that can be counted as billable?
- Are pro bono hours considered in bonus/promotion performance reviews?
- Are summer associates required/encouraged to participate in pro bono?
- Are pro bono cases treated the same as billable cases when work is distributed?
- What percentage of attorneys in the firm did pro bono?
- What is the average number of pro bono hours per lawyer?
3. Is the firm's pro bono program highlighted on its website or in its annual report?
- Is the information provided specific and substantive or more of a general marketing piece?
- Ask for a copy of the firm's written pro bono policy.
4. Does the firm have other programs encouraging public service?
- Firms Sponsoring Split Public Interest Summer Programs (Yale Law School)
- Externship Opportunities for Associates
5. Does the firm have an annual goal for pro bono hours?
PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® (The Challenge requires the firm to commit 3-5 percent of their total billable hours to pro bono.)
Other Resources for Assessing a Law Firm’s Commitment to Pro Bono:
- American Lawyer (annually evaluates law firm pro bono programs)
- The Vault Guide to Law Firm Pro Bono Programs (information on the pro bono programs of the 100 largest firms)
- Chambers Associate (pro bono is part of each firm’s profile)
- NALP Directory (information about firms’ pro bono policies)
- Assessing a Law Firm’s Commitment to Pro Bono (prepared by Columbia Law School)
- Pro Bono Guide: An Introduction to Pro Bono Opportunities in the Law Firm Setting (prepared by Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising Harvard Law School)